The gritty realism of Robert Frank

Home > Culture > Features

print dictionary print

The gritty realism of Robert Frank

The photographer Robert Frank’s portrait of New York City never shows the Statue of Liberty. Instead, to the eyes of this Swiss-born photographer, the quintessence of the city lay in a desolate back alley, which he titled “NYC on 33 11th Ave. 1949.” Included among the 25 photographs by Mr. Frank in the exhibition at the Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery, the black-and-white photograph presents a bleak side of the city reflected in the eyes of a stranger.
To introduce modern photography, the Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery in Insa-dong, central Seoul, has, since earlier this year, presented successful exhibitions. The first of its kind was of the acclaimed French photographer Eugene Atget (1857-1927), followed by the avant-garde American photographer Man Ray (1890-1976). The third in this chronological series is Robert Frank, whose exhibition runs through March 3 next year, sponsored by the U.S. and Swiss embassies in Seoul. It’s the first Robert Frank exhibition in Korea, organizers say.
Born in 1924 in Zurich, Mr. Frank started his career at the age of 18, soon moving to the United States. Supported by a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, he journeyed through the United States in the 1940s and ’50s, producing “The Americans” series, the best known among his works. Many examples are included in this exhibition.
Crisscrossing the continent alone by car at the height of McCarthyism was not always fun for this photographer with an obvious foreign accent; he was once arrested by the Arkansas police and charged with being a spy. With his hardly noticeable manual Leica as his best friend, Mr. Frank captured accidental yet critical moments that mirror the darker side of American life. Instead of depicting prospering Americans after they overcame the Great Depression, what was meaningful to Mr. Frank was the isolation of individuals in society and the loss of humanity in the fast-developing material world.
The photographs were not so flattering to Americans and no publishers in the United States were willing to release his work. Mr. Frank therefore turned to a French publisher to have his works come out in 1958. One year after, a New York publisher released the book. Bringing controversy to the world photography scene, “The Americans” earned much acclaim from contemporary photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Kim Young-seob, owner of the gallery and organizer of the exhibition, considers Mr. Frank meaningful in the history of modern photography with his pursuit of accidental moments, compared to Cartier-Bresson’s style, which was characterized by what is dubbed “the decisive moment.” “After the 1950s, in which Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moments ruled, Mr. Frank opened a door to a new style of photography,” Mr. Kim said.

by Chun Su-jin

Admission to the exhibit is 5,000 won ($4.70); it is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Atget Hall of the gallery. The Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery is in Insa-dong, Jongno, central Seoul, best reached from Anguk station on subway line No. 3, exit No. 6. For more information, call (02) 733-6331 or visit
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)